Germany's bathing waters are clean machines

Lake in BrandenburgClick to enlarge
91 per cent of the bathing waters in Germany are `excellent'.
Source: Friedberg / Fotolia

Some 98 per cent of the bathing waters in Germany fulfil the quality requirements of the European Bathing Water Directive, and just under 91 per cent even earn the highest rating 'excellent'. These are the data on the 2016 water quality of bathing waters which were published by the EU Commission on 23 May.

Only five bathing waters were classified as 'poor' by the Commission in 2016, and thus the quality of Germany's bathing waters continues to be good, similarly to what was reported in 2015. A total of 2,292 bathing waters in Germany were tested in the 2016 bathing season, with a total of 13,500 water samples taken and evaluated. Of the bathing waters tested, 1,893 were inland lakes, 367 were on the coasts of the North and Baltic Seas, and 32 were along river courses. The water quality in most rivers fluctuated since rivers are often heavily contaminated in particular after heavy rainfall and then no longer suitable for bathing. The UBA therefore advises against bathing in rivers when the water quality has not been determined. 

Poor water quality, which may result for example from treated wastewater discharges which also contain pathogens, is invisible to the bather's naked eye. This is why water is sampled at regular intervals and tested for two indicator bacteria – Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci – to determine the possible presence of a faecal contamination. The latest results of tests are available online for all bathing waters, posted by the respective federal states (Länder). Click here for an overview

The bathing waters themselves post the data of their bathing water quality both online and on site. This includes information about the sources of contamination (e.g. wastewater discharges) and other potential risks for bathers (e.g. cyanobacteria). 

The problem of massive growth of cyanobacteria is evident as “algal bloom“, which clouds the water in shades of bluish green. There’s a simple rule of thumb to follow and know when it is no longer safe to bathe in such as case: wade into the water knee-deep – if you can no longer see your feet, there is too much cyanobacteria in the water. 

European Bathing Water Directive

The European Bathing Water Directive lays down how the quality of bathing water is reviewed. As a result, bathing water quality has vastly improved since monitoring was introduced in 1976. In the 1990s, 10-15% of bathing waters were still classified as ‘poor‘ compared to a mere 0.2 per cent in the 2016 bathing season. To see last year’s bathing season data for all the bathing waters in Europe, click on

Unlike the good quality of bathing waters, the ecological state of many rivers and streams in Germany is less rosy: only some 26 per cent of Germany’s lakes classified as “good” or “high” in 2015 according to the EU Water Framework Directive, and only 7 per cent of rivers and streams. None of the transitional or coastal waters along the North and Baltic Seas had either “good“ or “high“ ecological status in 2015. 

Umweltbundesamt Headquarters

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

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